Anatomy of an Email Service Failure

Many of us rely on email for simple customer service transactions. All too often, we experience email exchanges like the one below that leave us even more frustrated than we were before.

The Situation
I play on an indoor soccer team and wanted to know our schedule for the upcoming season. Schedules for each season are typically announced the Sunday before a new season starts, so I emailed the company that runs the league to get the latest schedule. 

Me (Sunday @ 4:33 pm)

Is it possible to get a copy of the schedule for Buena Onda via email? We play in the men’s over 30 league on Thursdays.

Thank you,

Them (Sunday @ 4:50 pm):
(No message. The response simply contained last season’s schedule pasted into the body of the email.)

Me (4:51 pm):
Thanks for the quick response, though I meant the upcoming season.

Thank you,

Them (4:53 pm):
The upcoming season hasn’t started yet…

Me (4:55 pm):
Are you saying that the schedule for the upcoming season hasn’t yet been created? All that’s posted on your website is that our team has a bye this coming week, but I’m trying to learn when our other games will take place.

Them (5:03 pm):
The last games for the current season are being played this coming Thursday.  After they are played we can align the league & schedule the next group of games.

Well, on the bright side, the do get points for responsiveness. In a recent survey on email response times, I discovered that most people expect businesses to respond to emails within one day (see the survey results here). Now, a few negatives:

No personalization. Emails should include a salutation and the name of the person sending the message. It’s even worse when multiple people use the same general email address since you don’t know who is helping you. The person responded to my email could have added their name.

Failure to understand. The person reading the email didn’t take a moment to pause and think about which schedule I was referring to. If they had, they may have realized that I was likely wondering about future games rather than games I had already played.

Not answering the next question. CSRs responding to email should try to anticipate the next question and answer that one too. The anonymous person responding to the email could have combined emails two and three and saved us one round of back and forth. (Read more about this tip.)

Bottom Line:
While this email exchange hasn’t cost the company any business (yet), there are a few costs that all businesses should be wary of:

  • Frustrating. Having to send three emails to get one question answered is frustrating.
  • Wasteful. These excessive email exchanges can add up to a lot of wasted time.
  • Referrals. Service failures like this make it much less likely for customers to refer a business.